Caught by the River

The BBC Radiophonic Workshop by Chris Watson

Chris Watson | 31st October 2008

Mute are issuing a series of BBC Radiophonic Workshop recordings, starting on Monday. We asked friend of the river Chris Watson for a few words about them:

“I love these works. For me they range from being highly nostalgic to completely unknown and between the three discs also span a significant time in the development of British broadcasting. The BBC Radiophonic Workshop was a creative service department established in 1958 to supply electronic music for BBC Radio and Television and these recordings ably demonstrate the range and style of that programming, from the fabulous to the simply excruciating.

I first played disc one of ‘A Retrospective’ whilst attempting to make a curry early one evening, however the first three tracks just blew me away and I had to sit down and actually listen rather than let the kitchen ghetto blaster wash over me. ‘Amphitryon 38’, ‘The Ocean’ and some sounds created for ‘Quatermass and the Pit’ set the tone for the CD and the tone is generally set to mellow. All the early tracks are of course analogue recordings and display a golden glow that our 21st Century plug-ins just can’t replicate. Amazing. I stared at our silver Sony CD/Radio/Mini Disc device on the kitchen table. Was this a CD playing or had I accidentally tuned into a lost radio broadcast bouncing around in the ether? I sat there for 1hr 19mins completely absorbed by what I heard. The sounds stopped, I got up and ordered a take away.

More careful selection is required for disc two and the other two CD releases otherwise you can find yourself accidentally listening to music for a BBC Radio Nottingham station theme, a home repair programme or, god forbid, an Arts programme. However there are some beautiful compositions by Delia Derbyshire; ‘Blue Veils and Golden Sands’ and ‘The Delian Mode’ in particular. Then there is the documentation and sleeve notes which any Musique concrete or electronic music fan, and aren’t we all, will love. Pictures of studio reel to reel tape recorders and lavish EMS synthesisers, it doesn’t get much better than this.

These works are essential to any collection of electronic music as well as being great kitchen music, just keep the remote control handy.”

Chris Watson